Joe Gandelman: America’s poop deck politics
It’s the ultimate stomach turner: how Carnival’s 893-foot long cruise ship Triumph, along with its 4,200 passengers, was stranded due to a fuel engine leak for five days with no food, little water and few working bathrooms. Passenger cell phone photos showed slews of plastic bags brimming with human waste, and lumpy, raw sewage floating in big puddles.
It gave a new meaning to the phrase “poop deck.”
You have to now wonder: is that a metaphor for what’s now happening in American politics?
Folks, it ain’t getting better. Shortly after the 2008 presidential election, pundits wrote all kinds of columns about how America was entering a new “post-partisan” era. W-r-o-n-g. And after the 2012 election, pundits suggested Republicans would re-evaluate and no longer be the party constantly opposed to everything Barack Obama proposed. Why, they’d surely temper over the-top, breathless political polemics. W-r-o-n-g.
In the frenzied effort by some GOPers to scuttle the nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, Sen. John McCain finally articulated what all the GOPers’ political huffing and puffing, all the evident personal anger and near-rage displayed during Hagel’s confirmation hearings was really about. McCain told Fox News:
“But to be honest with you ... it goes back to there’s a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly and [said] he was the worst President since Herbert Hoover and said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which was nonsense,” McCain explained. “He was anti-his own party and people — people don’t forget that. You can disagree but if you’re disagreeable, then people don’t forget that.”
So Hagel was mean to GWB and he must pay the price with a Republican filibuster that Republicans insist isn’t a filibuster (like “pre-owned cars” are not “used cars”). Meanwhile, if McCain was doing his best Michael Corleone impression, Texas’ Republican Sen. Ted Cruz was doing his best Joseph McCarthy imitation, demanding Hagel reveal where $200,000 income came from, declaring: “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea. I have no evidence that it is or isn’t.”
Although Hagel is likely to be confirmed, this shows how political waste is now our politics’ motor. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that six in 10 Republican voters would support a pathway for undocumented immigrants’ citizenship. That is, unless Obama proposes it — which would reduce GOP support by 21 percent.
This view was confirmed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who noted: “An Obama [immigration] plan led and driven by Obama in this atmosphere with the level of hostility towards the president and the way he goads the hostility I think is very hard to imagine that bill, that his bill is going to pass the House.” But a bill originating in the Senate, Gingrich said, “could actually get to the president’s desk.”
Once upon a time, American politics was about issues; now it’s about hyper-partisans and hyper-ideologists having issues. American politics was once about politicians studying problems and acting; now it’s about politicians and partisans acting out.
American politics is increasingly less about governance and taking sound policy positions than determining a political response based on hate, revenge or partisan spite. What will it take to change this? A newer, smarter generation? Gridlock that leads to catastrophe? Can this trend be reversed?
If not, America’s poop deck politics will continue to flow.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.